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A History of the Buena Vista Estate

Updated: May 26, 2020

The story of the Buena Vista Estate begins on the 10th of February 1789 when the Royal Governor, John Murray (1732-1809), Earl of Dunmore and Viscount of Fincastle, granted a 150 acre parcel of land (Dept. L&S Book A: 1785-1865) to the Honourable John Brown, Esquire (1724-1796). Brown served as the President of His Majesty, King George III’s, Council for these Islands and lived in The Bahamas for more than 50 years. During his time at Nassau “…he filled at different times almost every office of responsibility in the Government, with the greatest honour and integrity.”

A plaque on the Senate building at Rawson Square commemorates Brown and reads; “In 1790 this property, later known as ‘The Public Lot’, was purchased by the Hon. John Brown, a member of the Governor’s Council. The centre building was erected prior to 1790. After renovation, the Upper House was occupied by the House of Assembly (from 1796 to 1805) and the Governor’s Council. In 1841, when the Governor’s Council was divided into the Executive Council and the Legislative Council, the latter body continued to meet here.”

Shortly thereafter, Lord Dunmore ceded the property to John Brown. Brown then quickly entered into an indenture with Stephen Delancey (1748-1798) a Loyalist and slave owner from New York. Delancey had distinguished himself as lieutenant-colonel of the New Jersey Loyal Volunteers in 1782 and rewarded (the family’s property was confiscated by the Continental Congress) with the position of Chief Justice of The Bahamas. He was married to Cornelia (1753-1817), the daughter of the Rev. H. Barclay of Trinity Church, New York and was son to Major-General Oliver De Lancey, Sr. (1708–1785) and grandson to Etienne DeLancey (1663–1741).

A copy of indenture between Brown and Delancey, located at The Department of Archives, reads that; “The land was located to the west of the Town of Nassau and behind Dunmore House which was Government House at the time. It stretched from West Hill Street (with an imaginary line drawn from west to Augusta Street opposite West Hill Street to the north) to South Street in the south, Nassau Street in the west and Hospital Lane to the east.”

Less than a decade later, Delancey went on to become the Captain General, Commander in Chief and Governor of the (British) Colony of Tobago. He died in 1798, at the age of 50 in Portsmouth, New Hampshire en route to England.

DeLancey was with me, and speaking to me when he was struck [by a cannon ball].” He continued by writing that De Lancey “…was an excellent officer, and would have risen to great distinction had he lived”. Sir William’s wife, Lady Magdalene DeLancey (1793-1822), later published the book; A Week at Waterloo to much acclaim by both Charles Dickens and Sir Walter Scott.

In 1801, the original land grant was divided into eighty lots by Surveyor General Benjamin Lord. The land surrounding the Buena Vista was sold to well to do free slaves who made-up what became known as Delancy Town. For the next 50 years ownership of the Buena Vista Estate is unknown. According to local periodicals in 1851, the Buena Vista passed into the hands of the Reverend William Woodcock (1821-1852), Curate of St. Agnes Church for the price of £250. Woodcock is best remembered for his advancement of education in the colony, especially amongst blacks. He founded the Bain’s Town Free Day Schools known as St. Agnes’ Day School and the Woodcock Primary School. He lived at Buena Vista for less than a year until his untimely death.

Woodcock was originally the Canon of Christ Church in Adelaide, South Australia. He practiced law in 1843, at Melton Mowbray in England where he promoted every institution which he thought would aid the moral and religious progress of its inhabitants. In 1845, he experienced a very sudden pulmonary attack. Then in August 1846, he traveled to the island of Madeira where he rested for three months then followed to Nassau where he had friends residing. After a few months he returned to England. Then in the summer of 1847, he visited Malta, Rome, Damascus, the Dead Sea and Jerusalem. Upon his return he published Sites and Scenes in Scripture Lands.

In 1848, Woodcock was appointed the Curate of St. Agnes Church by the Bishop of Jamaica. Shortly after his ascension in 1850, he published Memoranda about the Bain’s Town Tornado. His pulmonary ailment returned shortly after he purchased the Buena Vista and he died in Eleuthera at the age of 31. His body was returned to Nassau where it was interred at St. Agnes Church. Governor John Gregory (1849-1854), who gave his name to Gregory Arch, was chief mourner at his funeral.

After Woodcock’s death, the Buena Vista passed to the Reverend Robert Dunlop (1832-1891). He was the son of Samuel Dunlop, Minister of Hillhall Presbyterian Church in Lisburn, Northern Ireland. He is best known for enacting the Presbyterian Church Property Act in 1875 which regulates the management by the minister and elders of the Presbyterian Church (Act No. 19 of 1875). His tombstone at the Western Cemetery, within walking distance from Buena Vista, reads; “Minister of St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church for twenty-five years he occupied a prominent position as a citizen of this colony”.

A Buena Vista Restaurant publication from the 1960s tells us that; “‘As the years passed, Buena Vista mellowed into a beautiful and graceful mansion, watching the hectic scenes below from its serene vantage point on the hill above Nassau’s harbour.’ In his will, Mr. Dunlop left the house to Mary Emily Johnson, subsequently Mary Emily McLean, younger daughter to the late Otis Johnson who, with his family, lived next door in Hillsboro.’ [Sic] The house now known as “Los Cayos,” is the present home to Mrs. Arthur S. Vernay.’”

Mrs. Vernay’s husband, Mr. Arthur Stannard Vernay (1877-1960) was the leader of the Society for the Protection of th